You’re Late!


By Phil Harwood

If you’re like most employers, there is that one person who can’t consistently make it to work on time.  Let’s call this person B (we’ll call them A when they start showing up on time). B knows what the start time is. But B continually and regularly fails to abide by the start time.

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This problem appears to be widespread. Not surprisingly, accusations are directed toward the younger generation’s work ethic, failing schools, absent parenting, etc. The problem is that these accusations don’t solve the problem, even if they are well-founded. I’m all for solving these societal issues but the employer has an issue today. So what steps might an employer take?
First of all, it would be wise to establish whether or not a fixed start time is essential. Of course, for many positions it is. But if it’s not, then perhaps there is no problem at all. For many jobs, the focus should be placed squarely on results not on the clock. If performance is what matters, counting minutes a person sits at a workstation is misplaced. So before we try to solve a problem, let’s make sure there is a problem that needs to be solved.
Second, an employer should be consistent in whatever approach they are applying to the situation. If B is going to be held to a standard, that same standard should apply to B’s peers as well. If not, the employer opens the door to accusations of favoritism or discrimination. Let’s stay far away from those potential claims.
Third, if start time is critical, this should be made clear during the hiring process. And, more importantly, every instance of deviation needs to be addressed. If not, a precedence is set, and it’s more difficult to gain compliance to a policy that is not consistently enforced.
Fourth, address the tardiness the same day it occurs. But don’t use a hammer. The key here is to approach the situation with finesse. Begin by asking B why they were late. Then ask them what they intend to do to prevent this from happening again. If this is B’s first occurrence, that’s probably the extent of the conversation. Take B at face value and move on.
Fifth, if there are continued tardiness issues, then the conversation needs to change. Again, don’t use a hammer. This time, even more finesse is required. Begin by asking B why they were late and what they intend to do about it. But then remind them that you’ve had this conversation before and here we are again. Explain to them in very clear language what your expectations are and that this is not negotiable. Help B understand how the company is impacted. Help B see that this affects how people view them. Does B really want to be seen as an unreliable person? Is this the reputation they want? Maybe B never thought about these things before.
A final step may be providing some assistance or support to help B solve the problem. They need to take ownership, but perhaps you are able to provide resources that will help them do so. This obviously is not always possible. But if it is, it’s probably worth the investment, especially if B is a key person.
Beyond this, everything is punitive. And that’s the last place we want to go. Taking away a privilege or creating written documentation probably leads to B leaving the company on their own or termination. Sometimes discipline is productive, especially if the employer has the ability to manage a performance improvement plan with finesse, but many employers are ill-equipped to do so.
A better approach is to take the proper steps that I’ve outlined in this article. Be sure to layer on a heavy dose of nurturing. If B feels cared for, valued, and respected, their response will look very different then if they don’t.
Final comment: managers often feel like they have too much on their plate to address something as minor as punctuality. However, as the old adage says: you get what you tolerate. I’m guessing our busy manager also doesn’t have time for recruiting, on-boarding, and training. Address the issue when it arises – with finesse. You just might solve the problem.

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Now go forth.

Tags: Time Management , Constistency , Hiring Process ,